Alright. Well, yes, it’s less than ideal circumstances, but let’s distract ourselves with Star Wars for a few minutes? Maybe?
This past Friday, Disney decided to release Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a few days early since we are all pretty much quarantined to our homes right now. Look, I’m not a fan of this movie. When I first heard that it was being released I made a pithy joke to myself. Then I actually texted someone this strong declaration, “This will be the first Star Wars movie I don’t own!” Then, of course, within a few hours, I bought it anyway.
Now, I bought it because I wanted to watch the two-hour documentary that comes with the purchase, and we’ll get to that shortly. (And, well, I’m stuck in my apartment for the foreseeable future so any “content” right now is appreciated.) I will say this one quick thing about the movie itself, which I hadn’t watched since the premiere: I tried watching it again, with lower expectations, and I didn’t make it all the way through. Though, its problems just seemed more obvious the second time. I watched about half of it and I just felt exhausted because it’s nonstop characters explaining things and relaying new information we’ve never heard about before. The only scene I truly liked was Poe, Finn, and Chewbacca playing Dejarik, because it’s the only one that just takes its time and breathes. Everything else just feels so fraught.
Anyway … the two-hour-plus long documentary is actually pretty interesting. Look, it’s on the official release, it’s not going to be “warts and all.” There are a lot of smiling faces and no clue they were making something that would currently be sitting with a “rotten” Tomato score. But it’s also a good reminder of the scale of these movies and just all that goes into making something like this. You hear “no one sets out to make a bad movie,” and – no matter whatever your opinion of the movie is personally – it is considered a disappointment financially and especially critically. And a lot of people involved with this movie, I know for a fact, took that to heart.
So, more than anything, this documentary lets us in on some of the decision-making processes that led to the final result we have today. And it’s pretty fascinating because there are more than a few shots of J.J. Abrams with a, let’s say, “concerned” look on his face about some of the plot beats. There’s one in particular, surrounding the scene with the remains of the Death Star, where three or four people are all talking to him about ancient Sith texts and magic daggers and sacred scrolls, and wayfinders – and Abrams has a look on his face that just says, “What on Earth are we talking about here?”
The documentary is peppered throughout with behind-the-scenes footage from the Original Trilogy and some interviews with the cast from that era in an effort to tie it all together with what was done in IX. The major plot point that gets this treatment is, of course, Palpatine. And watching this documentary, it becomes clearer how everyone talked themselves into this idea. Abrams talks about his love for the Darth Plagueis scene in Revenge of the Sith and how all the talk about never dying is the ultimate setup for what they eventually do in The Rise of Skywalker. Now, that’s true. But it’s what also leads to all the problems in the final film. Because there’s so much explanation, yet still no actual explanation about his return. Maybe Luke should have brought up ‘ol Plagueis to Rey at some point? Or start planting the seeds for this back in The Force Awakens? But what the documentary proves is how people get so caught up in the idea of something, no one quite bothers to make it quite work. And the example here is when Ian McDiarmid shows up on set for the first time in full makeup, people go nuts. And, yes, even watching this in the documentary, it’s pretty hard not to think, “Oh, this is awesome.” So I can almost see how something goes from that to, “Well, it doesn’t completely work, but it’s so incredible to have him back that people won’t care. Look at him!”
The other fascinating aspect is the use of older footage from The Force Awakens to put Carrie Fisher in the movie. Look, from the perspective of the movie itself, The Rise of Skywalker probably would have worked better without Leia in this context. But I do go back and forth over this aspect in that maybe, for the greater good of giving Fisher one last role, that this was probably the best thing to do. The documentary, for me, convinced me that everyone’s heart was in the right place and it was the right thing to do. Abrams admits they built scenes around whatever dialogue they had. And, yes, some of them are a little clunky. But I do think, 20 years from now (fingers crossed), what we lost a little bit in story cohesiveness will be passed by the notion that we have one more Carrie Fisher movie to watch.
So, yes, if you’re stuck at home (also, you need to stay at home, this is serious) and aren’t sure about buying The Rise of Skywalker because you, oh let’s say, “didn’t like it,” let it be known that the attached documentary is worth the price alone. (Honestly, I just kind of look at it as I bought the documentary, and then I got The Rise of Skywalker thrown in for free.)